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Peter Herrmann • Producer

Nowhere in Africa wins the Oscar


- Cineuropa talks exclusively to the producer of this year's best foreign language film Peter Herrmann

Peter Herrmann • Producer

Nowhere in Africa [+see also:
film profile
is the moving story of a German Jewish family's escape from almost certain death under the Nazis, to life and freedom in Kenya. The father, Walter Redlich (Merab Ninidze), a well-respected lawyer in Germany, gets a job as a farm manager - a profession he knows nothing about. He rolls up his sleeves and does the best he can and is always extremely respectful of his African co-workers. It is much more difficult for his wife, the beautiful Jettel (Juliane Kohler) to adapt: from being the object of persecution as a Jewish woman in Germany, Jettel reveals herself to be highly prejudiced against the African natives. The film is based on Stefanie Zweig's autobiography: she is the little girl of the film, Regina (Karoline Eckerz and Lea Kurka) who finds that Africa and its customs, fit her like a glove. This beautifully photographed film is about the importance of tolerance, solidarity and the difficulties that people experience when they are suddenly and violently uprooted from everything that is familiar to them. Although Africa can be overwhelmingly beautiful as a setting, and master-cinematographer Gernot Roll does a magnificent job, Caroline Link never loses sight of the story and the personal development of her characters and their relationships.
We spoke to an euphoric Peter Herrmann who produced this film and dedicated seven years of his life to it.

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The obvious question: what does it feel like to win an Oscar?
“I feel absolutely wonderful. It’s fantastic and I still cannot believe that we won the Oscar. This award is the high point of every filmmaker’s career and this despite the situation in the world, both for Caroline Link and myself, this is a very special moment in our lives.
This film has been part of my life since 1995 when I bought the film rights to Stefanie Zweig’s book and I have been very involved in every stage. I spent over six months in Kenya on the pre-production and three months during the filming. That was a very high risk shoot because of the lack of infrastructure in Kenya. Communications were a problem because outside of Nairobi, phones don’t work so sometimes it was a bit of a nightmare but it was very important for Caroline Link and myself that this film be as authentic as possible because it is based on a true story.”

Have you managed to speak to Caroline Link?
“Yes I did, but we did not have a normal conversation, we were both just crying over the phone. I also tried to speak to the members of the cast but could not get through because their lines were busy.”

Tell what the atmosphere was like at the ceremony?
“Well it was overshadowed by the events of the war. Michael Moore, the director of the winning documentary Bowling for Columbine, made a very strong speech and he ended it by saying: "We are against this fictitious war, Mr. Bush. Shame on you”. I think that this was a feeling that many people there shared.”

Does your film carry a particular message that is relevant to contemporary society?
“The message behind this film is what it is like to be a refugee. This condition affects millions of people all over the world and it is interesting to see how finding yourself in a position of weakness and in a country that is not your own affects your life and relationships.”

What do you think of the other nominees?
“Difficult question. Really difficult. I only know two of the other nominated films Hero, the Chinese film and The Man Without A Past [+see also:
film profile
but of course the other two are really very good because getting a nomination for an Oscar means you have entered the champions’ league. The two films I mentioned are very different from Nowhere in Africa [+see also:
film profile
. Hero is a an enormous very well-done film with a huge budget and a very personal filmmaking style and Aki’s film is the total opposite; it’s a very good and strong arthouse film. I think that our film is somewhere in the middle because it has both arthouse aspects and is also a big and powerfully dramatic movie.”

Do you think this Oscar victory will make it easier for you to produce your future projects?
“I am very optimistic and really hope that things will go much more quickly with my next project.”

Which is?
“Well Stefanie Zweig wrote a sequel to Nowhere in Africa called Nowhere in Germany. It is the story of the family’s return to German in the 1950s and is a very interesting and important subject, especially since everyone knows our films – it’s become a sort of a brandname in Germany.
As far as the second project is concerned, that’s a little difficult for me to talk about right now because I am hoping to secure the contract. All I can say is that it is a big international project, a little like Nowhere in Africa in that it is not set in Germany but is about a subject linked to Germany.”

There is a generalised feeling that the way ahead for European cinema to survive lies in setting up co-productions. Do you agree?
“I do. Last summer I made my first European co-production, a Franco-German film entitled Olga’s Summer which is scheduled for release in the winter. It was a very interesting and positive experience for me. Before I made this film everyone warned me against working with the French because they make everything so complicated but for me and my French co-producer, this was a very positive experience. Perhaps a lot depends on your co-producer, but given my personal experience, it is definitely something I would repeat.”

Nowhere in Africa was just released in the US. How is it doing?
“It has been out for just over a week in Los Angeles in 5 prints and is doing very well and has received positive reviews. It just started up in New York on either 2 or 3 screens and this will be followed by Chicago, San Francisco and in the end, the plan at the moment is for a countrywide release in about 50 prints.”

What are you doing right now?
“We are having a party, a very nice one and I think that most of the German community of Los Angeles is here.”

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